ICAC: 3 former NSW Labor ministers could face criminal misconduct charges for corruption

Former NSW minister Eddie Obeid. Photo: Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that three former Labor MPs, Eddie Obeid Snr, Tony Kelly, and Joe Tripodi engaged in serious corrupt conduct, along with Laurie Brown, the former chief of staff for Kelly when he was infrastructure minister.

Central to the finding was a doctored and “deceptive” cabinet minute in 2010 that, if approved, would have delivered a major financial windfall to the Obeid family.

Tripodi and Kelly were found to have been doing the bidding of Obeid Snr.

The report recommends the Director of Public Prosecutions investigate charging Obeid Sr, Kelly, Brown and Tripodi with criminal misconduct in public office.

Disgraced ALP powerbroker Obeid was jailed for five years with a non-parole period of three years in December last year after being found guilty of misconduct in public office over his family’s secret business dealings at Circular Quay.

It’s taken three years for the ICAC’s Operation Credo investigation into dealings between Australian Water Holdings Pty Ltd and Sydney Water Corporation to be released. The investigation cost former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell his job after he failed to remember being given a bottle of Grange, while federal senator Arthur Sinodinos stepped aside from his ministerial role during the investigation.

The ICAC made no findings against either man and after investigating allegations involving approaches made to the NSW Liberal Party by AWH over a public private partnership (PPP) proposal did not make any further findings against any individual in relation to that part of the investigation.

The report concludes the three former Labor politicians acted corruptly over the PPP proposal involving AWH which, had it proceeded, could have resulted in substantial financial rewards for that company and the Obeid family.

Obeid Sr’s son, Edward Obeid Jr, was working for an AWH-related company, Australian Water in July 2007 and later that year, the Labor powerbroker knew AWH wanted to proceed with a PPP involving water infrastructure in north-western Sydney.

By July 2008, an Obeid family entity was looking at acquiring shares in AWH.

The ICAC found the Obeids had a $3 million investment in AWH. They claimed it was a loan, but the corruption body found that claim was “false” and that Eddie Obeid Jr and former AWH CEO and chairman, Nick Di Girolamo, knew it was false.

Here’s part of what the ICAC says:

The Commission is satisfied that Edward Obeid Sr used his position as a member of Parliament to promote AWH’s interests to a number of ministers and premiers at a time when he knew that his family or a family entity could benefit if they acquired shares in the company and the PPP proposal proceeded.

The Commission finds that Mr Kelly’s former chief of staff, Gilbert (Laurie) Brown, engaged in serious corrupt conduct through his involvement in preparing a cabinet minute in 2010 to the Cabinet Standing Committee on the Budget (the Budget Committee of Cabinet), with the intention of improperly favouring Edward Obeid Sr by enabling AWH to proceed to direct negotiation with the NSW Government concerning the PPP proposal.

But a 2015 High Court challenge by NSW Crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen against the ICAC investigating her had an impact on the findings, in both delaying the release of the report, the subsequent shakeup of ICAC by former premier Mike Baird, and the fact that the corruption body could not make corruption findings against a number of others involved in the AWH deal.

The Commission also investigated whether people with an interest in AWH obtained a financial benefit by inflating charges made to SWC. No findings of corrupt conduct were made in relation to that matter.

The full ICAC report is here.

The expenses scandal that emerged during the investigation led to Sydney Water reaching confidential settlement with Australian Water Holdings over the claims in 2015.

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